I saw the movie Seven Alone when I was in 5th grade. Dork that I was and am, I of course then had to read the book (alternate title: On To Oregon).
The Plot: The Sagers, a family with seven children, go on the Oregon Trail. Sadly, the parents die and the children must struggle on alone. They also struggle to stay together. Along the way, the rambunctious oldest son, John, learns to be responsible. At the end of the journey, a kindly couple takes them in. They have made it! They survived! And the family stayed together.
While I was a dork, and a library kid, finding and reading the book that the movie was based on was good enough for me.
Thank God. Because now that I am a grown up (or at least older), I wondered, hey, was that really based on a true story? Imagine my delight when I discovered that it was!
And it quickly turned to horror as I found out the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say.
The kindly couple that adopted the Sager children? Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.
Not realizing what happened yet?
In a nutshell: The Whitmans were missionaries. Narcissa was the first white woman to travel the Oregon trail, and also gave birth to the first white child in that area. And then, three years after the Sagers arrived, the Cayuse attacked the mission, in part because of a measles breakout that affected many Cayuse. Both Sager boys, John and Francis, were killed. The five girls were captured; one died of measles in captivity; the remaining four were ransomed and split up.
So much for my happy ending.
A detailed account can be found at the National Park Service website. Another good source is the Whitman Mission Historical Site website.
Across the Plains in 1844, Catherine Sager's first hand account of both her journey across North America, the massacre, and the aftermath.
A quick listing of who was killed and who survived the Whitman Massacre.
I guess it just goes to show that whether a story is happy or sad all depends on when you decide to say "the end." Does the story end when the Sagers reach the Whitmans? Or does it end later? Another thing I've learned: when I'm watching any movie or reading any book that takes place over 100 years ago, I say to myself at the beginning: no matter what happens, they'd be dead by now anyway. It's just a matter of how and when they die. So try not to get upset.
NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 8,011